“To the Egyptian lady sitting in the last row, if you want Trump, you can have him.”
I was attending a political conference that featured a heated debate on the US presidential election, and these words from an American delegate surprised me. He was reacting to my suggestion that Americans should learn from Britain’s Brexit vote and not underestimate Trump’s chances of becoming president. But instead of rationally addressing my concerns, he reacted angrily and bitterly. Later in the year, this bitterness surfaced again when I had the opportunity to meet two American politicians in a symposium, a Trump supporter and a Clinton supporter. An argument erupted between them when I rather naively asked about the American election and Trump’s chances of winning it.
The two incidents were eye opening for me. America, like Britain, Europe, and the Middle East, is not just deeply divided, but is facing winds of change in a post-liberal world. The crisis of the liberal Western order and the rise of post-liberal tendencies, as Ross Douthat put it, should not be seen only as an economic phenomenon, but also as a crisis of culture and values.
Liberals have increasingly lost sight of the essence of liberalism. Instead of liberty, equality, and individualism, the neo-liberal order revolves around shaming opponents, tribalism, and even endorsing illiberalism (as some ethnic minorities do). Liberals have become more or less of a cult, praising and celebrating each other, dismissing dissent, and showing scant interest in winning hearts and minds. Their unwritten motto is, “We are too good to defend our values, too powerful to reflect on mistakes, and yes, we can take people for granted.”
In a recent piece, Michael Lerner stated how shaming opponents is not a good political strategy. He rightly said, “Instead of challenging this ideology of shame, the left has buttressed it by blaming white people as a whole for slavery, genocide of the Native Americans and a host of other sins, as though whiteness itself was something about which people ought to be ashamed.” This is not just a bad strategy, but is tantamount to a cultural betrayal of an important segment of Western society that feels isolated and vulnerable.
For months before the election, all Trump supporters were branded as ignorant and hateful, which is simply not true. As a Muslim, I have always welcomed how Western liberals have rushed to defend Muslims against repeated blanket accusations of terrorism. Nonetheless, I fail to understand the consistent mocking and demonization of millions of white working-class Westerners, simply because they voted for Trump.
Some suggest that many voted for Trump out of fear. That is partly true; Asra Nomani, an immigrant Muslim woman, voted for Trump. Asra represents many liberal Muslims and non-Muslims who have become increasingly disenchanted by the perceived appeasement of regressive Islamism by many in the corridors of power in the Western world.
But to many witnessing the unfolding post-election era in the US, the liberal camp has become scarier than Trump ____ it is perceived as a generic camp that has lost its authenticity and reduced liberalism to tick-box exercises. The “first black” and “first women” have become “the” goals. Those who dared to oppose those goals were labeled “enemies,” as if liberalism is a tribe that needs defending; not values that ought to be spread. Winning hearts and minds has dropped from the liberal agenda and been replaced instead by a self-righteous attitude that dismisses skeptics as ignorant fools.
The dismissive behavior of the liberal elite has forced many to drift away from the center and move further to the right. As Amber Jamieson reported, many secretly voted for Trump as a silent protest against the behavior of the Democrats: “As a gay Muslim, the Republican Party has not been kind to me, to say the least. However, the Democrats almost arrogantly expect me to hand my vote to them because of who I am, which insults me.”
To the American gentleman who ranted at me during the Trump debate I explained how I would never vote for Trump,, but unlike others who have arrogantly dismissed him, I understand how Trump’s ascent to the presidency could not be stopped by underestimating him or belittling and attacking his supporters.
The American who was so dismissive towards me during what should have been a rational and tolerant debate is not the only one whose vision and objectivity have been constrained by an emotional straightjacket. Throughout the election campaign, it has been painful to see Americans behave like angry Arabs, indulging in emotionalism and self-pity. Now the election is over, the liberal camp urgently needs humility and reflection; more importantly, this camp must stop blaming others for its own failures. As William Dalrymple tweeted, “This was not a Trump revolution but a Clinton collapse.” The sad reality is that sobbing and rioting will not change it.